The Pittsburgh Steelers last week started a young running back who had averaged 2.3 touches per game in his career up to that point. He finished that game with 36 touches, and left none for any of the other running backs.
Oh, sure, there were other carries. Wide receiver Ryan Switzer was given a draw on one play for eight yards. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger officially had three ‘carries’, one of which was a quarterback sneak, another a kneeldown, and the third a scramble.
All the other carries in the game—or passing targets to a tailback—went to James Conner, making the first start of his career in his second season. Conner never complained—the only time a running back apparently complains about his workload is when he’s an already proven performer angling for a new contract—but even his offensive coordinator acknowledged after the fact that it was a heavy load.
No other running back even played a snap. One of those backs, Stevan Ridley, spoke to reporters about that, saying that “it happens”. He allowed for first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner that there were a lot of things going on, from game circumstances to the weather, where the workload for a player could get lost in the shuffle.
“I ain’t got nothing but love for Randy”, he said. But perhaps we should wait on that until after today’s game to see what sort of workload he sees.
The only times that Conner came off the field for the Steelers last week during their 85 offensive snaps are for the seven plays in which they made use of the 01 personnel package, which features four wide receivers paired with one tight end.
The back’s workload was a topic of much conversation after the game as his numbers ground to a halt late in the game, and also included a fumble that the defense was able to recover and return to the one-yard line, the Browns scoring a touchdown on the following play.
While Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Conner, and some of the back’s teammates all downplayed the decline and the overall amount of work, Fichtner was the one to admit a mistake had been made in not using Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels, saying that you could “probably chalk that up to me being a young coordinator in this league”.
Ridley, for one, is a proven veteran who has had legitimate success in this league, and he looked good in his brief stint with the team last year, as well as during the offseason. Samuels is a player that they would like to find work for.
But you have to actually pay attention and get them on the field if you want that to happen. Otherwise you wind up overworking your young starter.